That’s a good thing for the Eddington family in Farmington.
Online first grade went so well, Lydia Eddington would like to stay home next year, too.
“I like how it has been online,” she said.
She’s in good company. Davis Connect, the online option for the Davis County School District, exploded from a capped enrollment of 100 students in the summer to 6,100 students by fall.
The school went from one full-time teacher to more than 100.
“There’s no way it’s going away,” said principal Stephanie Mouritsen.
Online learning is one COVID-19 contingency that will become an option even after the pandemic passes. Teachers climbed the steep learning curve to create engaging lessons, with Zoom technology and mute buttons.
“In the future, there is a way to make it work and be extremely successful for all types of personalities,” said teacher Mindy Simon.
She built connections with her class through home visits, even attending birthday parties and dance recitals. The efforts helped. By mid-year, her class went from 37% of students on grade level to almost 80%.
A related change that will now also become more permanent: Flexibility.
Kimberly Eddington wants to be able to work school around doctor appointments and family vacations, even when her children go back to school in-person.
“It’s so different than it was in the past. It was public school or home school. And now having the online option, it is just flexible,” she said.
In a survey conducted by the Jordan School District, 78% of parents told school leaders they now want the school week to be four days, with Fridays online.
That could potentially be possible, now that the Utah State Board of Education recently voted to give districts flexibility in how they meet minimum requirements for instruction time.
“What online education does, is frees up students and districts and schools to offer new ways of earning credit,” said Mark Peterson, USBE director of public relations.
With all the new technology needed for online schools, tech equity has become a huge concern. Nowhere is this more evident than in the San Juan County School District.
Never mind computers, fewer than 25% of students on the Navajo Nation even had access to the internet.
“Internet is definitely something that’s not taken for granted here,” said Assistant Superintendent Christy Fitzgerald.
The district has spent $5 million in federal CARES Act money to install infrastructure – towers, receivers and radio transmitters – which connect the school through a relay that goes over mesas and finally to the student’s house. Dozens of these towers will connect 500 homes, which means 90% of students on the reservation will eventually have equal access.
“This is a total game-changer. This is really the silver lining of all that we’ve been going through during the pandemic,” said Fitzgerald.
Summer School & Other Options For Lost Learning
One less-exciting change, at least for students: summer school.
Addressing learning loss is one of the top priorities for the Utah State Board of Education, and summer school is one of the ways districts will do it.
Several districts are working and budgeting for learning opportunities over the break. In the Salt Lake City School District, for example, summer school will be robust and in-person.
Another priority highlighted by the pandemic is the emotional well-being of students. Going forward, ensuring that well-being will be a lasting standard that schools are working to ensure.
For example, the Washington County School District budgeted zero dollars for social and emotional needs just a few years ago. The district led the state with the advent of school “wellness rooms,” and with new counselors, the district plans to spend $1.5 million this year.
The past year has pointed to smaller changes which are also here to stay. Going forward, schools will have little reason to cancel classes on snow days, for example. And hand sanitizing will hopefully remain a frequent practice.
Clearly, the impacts of the pandemic on student learning will be with us for a long time, but education leaders called it an opportunity.
“Right now, we can take advantage of where we are and propel into the future to do some things we’ve never done before. If we don’t take advantage of that, it would be tragic, really,” said Mouritsen.